Depending on your level of interest, you may be familiar with different types of gymnastics. At the Olympic level, men have six competitive events while women have four. Both sexes compete in floor exercises, vaults and bars, but while the guys’ bars are parallel, the women’s are uneven. Men further compete on still rings, pommel horses, and horizontal bars. Most floor exercises are classed under rhythmic gymnastics. They involve music, dance, balls, ribbons, hoops, and rope.
Many gymnasts are discovered as toddlers, and they start practicing soon after they can walk. This is important because their flexibility and body control develops along with their motor skills. For the average gymnast – especially female athletes – having a smaller, trimmer shape is an advantage, so they’re most active in their teens and tweens. But some of the more … expressive forms … like rhythm gymnastics … are open to older performers.
This is where Janine Murray comes in. While some Russian athletes are ready to retire at 16, Janine didn’t debut (at the Olympics) until she was 22. Jeanie – as her friends and family call her – was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, and attended Chisipite Junior School, where she was introduced to gymnastics and ballet. She started rhythmic gymnastics when she was six (back in Harare). Her best friend took up the sport, so she did too, working with coach Makoto Sato at Rolf Valley Gymnastics. She later trained with Krasimira Yurukova (better known as Krasi).
Lock, stock, and coach
When she was 12, she moved to Perth. That was in 2002, and Krasi moved to Australia around the same time, but Krasi was based in Melbourne. At 169cm tall, Jeanie’s not as tiny as the typical gymnast, but her ballet background is helpful in her chosen sport, and she was active internationally until 2012. Jeanie specialises in the ribbon, but as a rhythmic gymnast, she ‘plays’ with all five apparatuses. She says her favourite gymnastic skill is pivots.
Her first contest of note was the Australian National Senior Championship in 2006, where she finished seventh overall. She competed in the national seniors every year except 2009 (due to an injury, though she did recover in time for the 2009 World Chamionships). In the 2012 nationals, she won gold in all five apparatus events. On the global stage, Jeanie participated in the 2007, 2009, and 2010 World Championships, winning gold in the latter (at a team event).
In 2012, she represented Oceania in Seattle’s Pacific Rim Championships, Seattle, USA. While in Seattle, she won two silvers and a bronze, following up with her appearance with a wild-card qualification for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Unrelated, her favourite movie is Love Actually and her favourite team is the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team.
Beyond the gold
In 2008, while still doing competitive gymnastics, Jeanie enrolled for a Sports Science degree at the University of Western Australia. Like many gymnastics enthusiasts, she started young, but she didn’t receive Olympic recognition until her 20s. She describes it as her most significant gymnastic moment, and her best sporting year overall. Jeanie couldn’t have achieved any of it without the support of her coach, who worked with her both in Zimbabwe and Australia.
That support system and discipline plays a big role in sporting success. It’s not just about being talented or joining the right gymnastics club in Sydney. After all, Jeanie began her training path in Harare, and was based in Perth at the time of her national and Olympic qualifications. She still lives there now. But you do need the right team, and the right coach, so it may be helpful to find yourself a Krasi, or at least a good club within your neighbourhood.
Like many sports, gymnastics has a large mental / psychological component. Gymnasts can do things with their bodies that most of us see as pure magic. They need mental toughness and individual grit to stretch their bodies past breaking point, literally. When us mortals try to extend our limbs or contort our muscles, we hear cracks and creaks. Gymnasts routinely push beyond those points, making it look easy … and so graceful.
So no, you don’t have to move to Africa if you’d like to get into the Olympics. But it’s certainly helpful to join a good fitness and gym centre in Sydney, or wherever you live. Attend practice sessions religiously, listen to your coaches, and never give up on yourself. You never know – you just might spin and twirl your way to Australia’s next gymnastic gold. As Jeanie says, “If you think you can, you can.”